Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Thursday, 4 October 2007 14:37 UK

Revamped town hall's rich history

By Clare Babbidge
BBC News, Birmingham

Birmingham Town Hall, which has hosted William Gladstone, Sir Edward Elgar, David Lloyd George and The Beatles, is finally reopening after 11 years and a 35m refurbishment.

Town Hall interior. Picture by Mike Gutteridge
Conservation professionals renovated the interior

The beautiful building has graced the city centre since 1834 and has seen numerous historical events - including some unexpected ones.

But the rich history of the Grade I listed building, which is owned by the city council, was put on hold in 1996, when it closed on health and safety grounds.

Eleven years and millions of pounds later, it is reopening with a celebratory concert launching a two-week festival.

The building of the hall was commissioned in 1828 after a petition from the public and a piece of land was bought for 7,000.

An advertisement in The Times newspaper offered cash prizes for the best designs and was won by the architect Joseph Hansom, who based the building on the ancient Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome.

New organ

He was awarded 100 to oversee construction, although the project was marred by an accident where two workmen hoisting roof trusses into position were killed.

He had also agreed to underwrite the project, which led to the 27-year-old being declared bankrupt.

Town hall
I have no doubt that this beautiful, grand building... will again become a major international attraction
Mike Whitby
Council leader

The Town Hall's opening 173 years ago also began with an October music festival.

The organ, which had been paid for by a public appeal, was installed in time for the official opening.

The hall was designed for music performances, political speech-making and public gatherings.

It has seen concerts, wrestling matches, graduation ceremonies and political speeches.

William Gladstone, Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher are among those who have spoken there.

Rolling Stones

And in 1901, a speech by David Lloyd George criticising the Boer War caused a small riot and led to him disguising himself as a policeman to escape.

Sixty-three years later, Wolverhampton school teacher Mary Whitehouse demanded television clean up its act in a speech in front of 2,000 people at the Town Hall.

The Town Hall served an important role during the Depression of the 1930s as a centre for providing food to children of the poor.

Town hall
Scaffolding was dismantled last year

It has also played host to numerous famous composers and conductors, including Sir Edward Elgar, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sir Simon Rattle and Felix Mendelssohn, who premiered Elijah there in August 1846, receiving at least eight encores.

Years later, The Beatles and Rolling Stones delighted fans in a similar fashion, while the hall was the home of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 1926 until 1991.

Over the years, the hall has seen a number of renovation schemes and in 1927 serious consideration was given to demolishing it. Instead it was given a 37,000 revamp.

Seventy-six years later, the hall's fortune was sealed when it received the largest Heritage Lottery Fund grant awarded in the West Midlands.

'Magnificent icon'

The 13.7m grant was added to by 3m from the European Regional Development Fund and 18.3m from Birmingham City Council.

The extensive repair work included the replacement of two 1920s balconies with a single tier and restoring the 6,000 pipe organ, which was at one time the most powerful in England.

For several years, visitors to the city saw the hall in various states of repair, including being surrounded by scaffolding and having the roof removed.

Council leader Mike Whitby said Thursday's opening concert promised to be a "fantastic evening".

"I am so pleased that the project to restore this magnificent icon to its former glory has been completed on time and believe this is testimony to the hard work of the hundreds of people involved in the restoration," he said.

"I have no doubt that this beautiful, grand building - situated in the heart of our global city - will again become a major international attraction for which Birmingham can be proud of for years to come."

35m town hall revamp completed
23 Mar 07 |  West Midlands
In pictures: Town Hall's revamp
23 Mar 07 |  In Pictures


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